Schools Minister Jim Knight has offered to come to Dudley and help the council to secure a £200?million fund to refurbish the borough’s schools.
He piled on the pressure as a Labour MP accused the Conservative-led authority of betraying local children for political reasons, by turning down the chance of funding.
Lynda Waltho (Lab, Stourbridge) launched a stinging attack on local councillors in the House of Commons, where she claimed Dudley Council had refused cash to improve the borough’s schools after it was told by Conservative strategists in London to stop co-operating with the government.
But her claim was dismissed as “cobblers” by David Caunt, Dudley Council’s leader.
The war of words was the latest twist in a long-running row over Dudley’s failure to apply for the latest phase of Building Schools for the Future, a government scheme to refurbish every school in the country.
Dudley had planned to apply for funding of £200?million to begin building work in 2010-11, but it has now put the project on hold for at least a year. It said it is struggling to find more than £2?million needed to manage the bid, which will come out of its own budgets.
Councillors said the change of plan was also partly a result of changes to government policy – including a new focus on schools with poor exam results – which meant the council had to re-think its proposals.
But speaking in the Commons, Ms Waltho claimed there had been other motives.
She said: “It is because Dudley’s Conservative cabinet and council leader and portfolio holder decided to close the door on this vital opportunity, and I suspect for the worse of reasons – party politics.
“The consequences of not going down the Building Schools for the Future route are too awful to contemplate. Dudley, although at the heart of the Black Country, doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
“The surrounding authorities of Wolverhampton, Sandwell, Walsall and Birmingham have already applied, and are receiving funds, and are creating vast palaces of learning.”
Mr Knight, replying on behalf of the government, told her: “Some people have suggested that Dudley’s decision to delay Building Schools for the Future was party political. I can’t comment on that, but I very much hope that they are not putting party politics before their children’s education.
“And I say to the people of Dudley, it’s not too late for your council to decide to enter this programme now. ”
However, Coun Caunt said the government had made a similar promise in a letter sent at the end of December, and no help had been given.
Asked about Ms Waltho’s claims that decisions were made for political reasons, he said: “She as talking the usual load of cobblers.”
He said: “We have declined to apply for a specific wave of funding, but that does not mean we have declined to apply for future waves.
“If Mr Knight wants to meet with me and hear about the problems we have faced, he would be very welcome.”